In response to my first blog post, and probably to my comment on the article about the Skype "High Quality Video", I received an invitation to try SightSpeed. They said "we want you to give your 'no holds barred' comments", so I will - I hope that neither of us end up regretting it!
It was easy to locate SightSpeed, at the obvious web address, and download and installation went smoothly. It was an interesting contrast to Skype, because on one hand, the installation seemed more "user friendly", in that it presented various installation options clearly and in easily understood terms - unlike Skype, which "obscures" the installation options on a separate page which I am willing to wager 90% of the users who install it never even notice. SightSpeed also has "Wizards" to handle the options which might be beyond the capability of ordinary users.
Once installed, it presents a decent looking user interface, but I am obviously going to have some exploring to do in order to figure out what is where, what's possible and what's not, and generally get to really know the program. I particularly liked the "Fish Tank" as a simple audio/video connection test, as a nice contrast to Skype having only an audio test, and an "unofficial" video test that no one seems to find until they are explicitly told about it.
The calling controls seem quite nice, and intuitive as well. All laid out in the initial screen, with video, audio and chat connection buttons per contact very obvious. It certainly should be easier for inexperienced users, and should avoid the constant stream of "how do I start a video call" questions that I used to answer in the Skype forums.
I'm not sure that I like the continuous video preview when SightSpeed is idle, for a number of reasons - first, I don't particularly like seeing myself all the time, second, I'm not pleased with the load that it must put on the computer, and third it adds significantly to the clutter on my desktop. There are various ways to change or disable it, though, and I suppose it is a good indication that your webcam is working (or not).
I should note that I downloaded the "Personal, Free" version, as opposed to the "Personal, Plus", which has a monthly or annual subscription fee - although the features of the plus look very interesting, it is obvious that the marketing and technical people at SightSpeed did their homework, and talked to each other, because the "Plus" features are pretty much what I would be interested in paying for, and they are mostly things that are not included in other "free" video chat programs. I may very well end up shelling out $10 to test the Plus version, if I am happy with SightSpeed Free; in particular it would be nice to see all three of my brothers on screen at the same time. Hmmm. Or would that really be nice. Well, I'll think about it.
Of course, the "Free" and "Plus" versions bring up the other major point that is obvious when you first start with SightSpeed, and which I want to discuss briefly here - cost. Even with the "Free" version, you have (obviously paid) advertisements on the screen all the time, both across the bottom of the SightSpeed main window and in the contact area when you make a call. In some ways it reminds me of using Eudora in "Sponsored Mode". Now, I'm not necessarily against this kind of paid advertising; as Skype seems to be learning the hard way, you have to pay the bills somehow (I guess that's why Skype has gone from a slogan of "The Whole World Can Talk For Free" to "There's More to Life than Free"!). My first impression of the SightSpeed advertising is that it's a bit intrusive, especially the ones that pop up in the contact window, but it's not unbearable. I'll have to see what I think of it after some use - whether it becomes an unnoticed part of the program, as I would like, or whether it is too much "in your face", as it seems right now. It will also be interesting to see if the adverts still come up when running the paid "Plus" version.
So, that's it for first looks. Overall impression: quite positive. Now comes the first "acid tests" - a few calls between some of the systems I have around, including some rather underpowered ones that used to struggle with Skype calls, and tests with various webcams - none of which are the "SightSpeed approved" models, by the way.